It's become abundantly clear that the nation will reopen in a sporadic and inconsistent fashion. But while the pace will vary by geography, the loosening of physical distancing will continue, as the public is already showing signs of quarantine-fatigue and has increased their travel.
As goes America, so go its health care providers, and there is no doubt in our minds that we all face reopening in less than optimal circumstances. Not only will tracing and surveillance be difficult—and far from perfectly accurate—but it's unclear how a fragmented re-opening process, confined by the limits of federalism and politics, will impact the nation's public health. However, hospital leaders are not in a position to wait to reopen until we have an abundant supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), and nationwide testing and tracking; nor can we give our overburdened workforce a vacation to build up their resilience.
To help hospital leaders determine the best course of action, our colleagues are addressing the resilience, supply chain, and epidemiological concerns. In this post, we want to continue to help you think through how you can lead your organization effectively during this crisis, and how your team can help your organization, your communities, and the nation as a whole.
Government: Help decision-makers keep the community safe
As government officials attempt to surf the waves of the Covid-19 epicycles, they are going to need a feedback loop. Even in the best-case scenario, there will be a substantial lag between action and effect—and with an incomplete testing function, that lag will be longer and the correlations less clear. (Let's just be realistic and set aside causation for the moment.)
This is where you can play an important role: By using your experience with your Covid-19 patients, and all your patients for that matter, you can help inform the mayors, county councils, and governors setting policy for your service areas by providing locally specific information on capacity, testing, and impact.
While you've likely already set up direct lines of communication with local public health authorities, we suggest you create an easily accessible and consistent—perhaps twice weekly—update for local political leaders and their staffs regarding the situation at your facilities. We’ve seen folks integrating CMOs/CNOs into those conversations to insure local political leaders have the information they need to understand the clinical (and business) situation.
The public: Provide an expert voice on health, wellness, and safety
Consistent communication with the public is also vital. We've heard a lot about physicians marketing to patients during this time, and while those conversations are certainly important, your communication with your community must go further.
Your patients, current and potential, need to hear from you about the situation you're facing, as well as how they can best stay safe and healthy as we slowly reopen our economies. The gating issue for many is, unsurprisingly, safety. Patients want to know that your facility is "safe;" however, like "organic," there's no easy definition and it's probably unwise to make a blanket guarantee. Our best advice is show, don't tell. Give specific information about your PPE-use and physical distancing protocols, staffing levels, testing of staff and patients, cleaning procedures, and the like.
Our colleagues are currently running a few surveys about which Covid-19-prevention techniques matter most to your patients, as well as best practices for facility safety—and you'll be hearing about those results soon. Beyond that, this messaging is an ideal opportunity to provide guidance on wellness, managing chronic conditions at home, and other health issues. An ideal execution here will communicate information directly to the public, as well as to the sources of information they trust, including local television, digital, radio, and print sources.
Your staff, clinicians, and referring physicians: Start at home
We'll end where your communication should begin—within your own organization. We could write (several) books on how to best communicate with your staff, clinicians, and referring physicians. This is a topic which, in the best of times, merits a considerable amount of your energy—and during a crisis like this, it's only more critical.
Our major advice here: Be truthful, be factual, and be timely. What does this mean in practice? Communicate first with your own organization. Don't hide the ball, and don't let your team learn about executive decisions or Covid-19-responses from their local news source, or worse, Twitter.
Getting this right avoids heartache and unnecessary distraction, and is a proven way to build the trust and support of your organization. Daily, your frontline staff are caring for your most valued resource—your patients—be sure they are the first to know what you're doing and why. And, as always, don't forget to thank them for their dedication and sacrifice. We know that you value them—and one of the best ways that you can show this is by keeping them well-informed.